By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Through two weeks of the 2017 season, NFL offenses are on a historically low pace. Touchdowns and points are both down from the same point in 2016, and the issue could end up going far beyond just one year.
With Week 2 in the books, NFL teams have scored 132 total touchdowns so far in 2017, or 2.13 per team per game. That’s down from 2.44 touchdowns per game through two weeks last season. Points are also down, as teams are averaging 20.1 per game as opposed to 22.6 in 2016. When the scoring has been high it’s typically been on one side, as 14 of 32 games so far have been won by 14 or more points.
Teams ended up with 2.55 touchdowns per game in 2016, so some improvement is to be expected. But even if scoring increases at the same rate as last season, teams would average about 2.23 touchdowns per game by the end of the 2017 season.
Barring a more drastic jump, that would be the lowest touchdown average since (wait for it) the 1993 season, when teams averaged 2.02 touchdowns and 18.7 points per game. Steve Young led the league in passer rating (101.5) and passing touchdowns (29) that year.
It’s too early to tell if the current dip in scoring will last, or to know whether 2017 is just an outlier or a harbinger of a steep decline across the NFL. And it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint a singular reason as to why the points are falling off.
Quarterbacks and passing games could be blamed. Passer ratings are astronomical compared to 1993, as Drew Brees’ 102.0 rating (10th in NFL) would have led the league in 1993, but the total passing yards per game (220.7) so far are off the pace from 241.5 per game last season. Still, there should be enough competent quarterbacks in the league right now who can move the ball and score more consistently.
Another issue that has been pointed to is offensive line play. Through two weeks in 2017, only two offensive linemen in the entire league have graded as “Elite” according to Pro Football Focus: Falcons center Alex Mack and Steelers guard David DeCastro. Even the vaunted Cowboys offensive line, which features three former first-round picks, has averaged a poor 59.6 grade.
It also could have little to nothing to do with the offenses in the first place. Perhaps defenses are simply catching up, effectively counteracting the scoring jump seen in recent seasons. Considering the abundance of sub-packages and smaller units you’re seeing these days, defenses have certainly become faster and more skilled.
But forget the players; it could simply be the coaches. After Bill Belichick as the obvious No. 1 choice, it immediately becomes a debate as to who’s No. 2. Top-10, forget it. The lack of effective coaching may also be a byproduct of the league’s reduction in full-pad practices in the preseason, leaving teams less prepared for the start of the season than usual.
For fans who are sick of the fantasy football crowd and the NFL’s emphasis on offense in recent seasons, a tilt back toward defense would be a welcome change. But it hasn’t exactly looked like that kind of change. It’s not a case of offenses playing well and simply getting outplayed by better defenses. Execution has been off, defenses haven’t had to earn their stops, and it’s resulted in an ugly early-season product.
The league’s mostly sloppy first two weeks have ostensibly contributed to a continued dip in TV ratings. Besides Monday Night Football and the Fox 4PM national TV window, all other NFL broadcasts were down in Week 2 compared to the same time in 2016, according to ShowBuzzDaily. It’s hard to tell how much the drop in scoring has directly impacted the ratings, but it surely hasn’t helped.
Scoring doesn’t need to get back to the levels of 2013, when the record-setting Broncos lit defenses up with little to no resistance (until the Super Bowl). But offenses at least need to look capable out there. The Bengals, 49ers, Giants, Seahawks, Texans, Colts, and Panthers have a whopping eight total touchdowns between them through two games each; like the rest of the league, they have nowhere to go but up. But the improvement must be even greater than in previous seasons, or else the NFL is in for an historic loss of offense – and entertainment value.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.